Poor sleep tied to memory trouble in black seniors

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Tue Oct 21, 1:07 pm ETNEW YORK (Reuters Health) — Older African Americans who have difficulty falling asleep seem to be more likely to have memory problems, a new study suggests.

The study, of 174 African Americans ages 65 to 90, found that those who said they often had a hard time falling asleep tended to have poorer scores on standard tests of memory.

Research shows that up to 40 percent of older adults have sleep disturbances, particularly trouble falling asleep. Poor sleep has also been linked to problems with memory and other cognitive functions. However, no studies until now have looked at this relationship specifically in older black adults — who, some research suggests, tend to be especially vulnerable to sleep problems.

In the current study, reported in the journal Research on Aging, investigators found that participants who’d been having trouble falling asleep over the past year generally had lower scores on tests of short-term and working memory. Working memory refers to the ability to tackle multiple tasks at once.

The link between sleep and memory problems held when the researchers accounted for several other factors, including depression and overall physical health.

The findings raise a number of questions, according to lead researcher Alyssa A. Gamaldo, a Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

For one, Gamaldo said in a statement, “it is not clear if lack of sleep is the issue. Is it the quantity of sleep, the quality of sleep, or something else altogether?”

More research is needed to confirm that a lack of sleep, or a lack of quality sleep, drain memory in older adults, according to Gamaldo’s team. If the current findings are confirmed, they add, then spotting and treating sleep problems in older adults could help them preserve their brain power.

“If we can better understand how sleep quantity, as well as quality, influences general cognitive functioning,” Gamaldo said, “perhaps we could better maintain memory throughout life — including later in life.”

SOURCE: Research on Aging, November 2008.

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